Water (Summer 1992)

Vol.3, No.2: Summer 1992

When we first began to think about doing a special RPE issue on water, we quickly realized that this was a huge subject that had scarcely been explored from the perspectives of our culturally and geographically diverse communities. We understood that trying to organize material scattered in so many different places into a coherent framework would be a difficult job, to say the least. Determined to approach the subject in a holistic way, we began by looking at the water cycle in nature.

In its simplest form, this cycle consists of three stages: evaporation, precipitation and run-off. Water evaporates from lakes, rivers, oceans, and vegetation, and rises to the upper atmosphere, where it mixes with dust and gas in clouds. It returns to the earth in the form of rain or snow and then runs off into ponds or soaks into the ground. Finally, the run-off replenishes our lakes and streams, quenches the thirst of plants and animals. Civilizations from Egypt to China have been built on these three cycles, on the ways societies capture and manage or mismanage water.

Thinking about the grassroots organizations and communities of color we work with, we looked for examples of urgent water issues. We discovered that many poor communities around the world struggle with droughts, floods and poisoned water, crises directly related to the hydrological cycle. Hurricane Andrew hit Southern Florida and Hawaii was devastated by a hurricane a week later, about the time we were going to press – too late to include in this issue – giving a dramatic illustration of the way rain and wind storms violently affect all communities, but especially affect those with fewer resources. Poor communities have often been located in flood plains, and often lack the wherewithal to protect their property, health, and safety. From the dust bowls in the Southwest of the United States, to desertification in the African Sahel, we can see the devastating effects of water evaporation, flooding and erosion on soil quality and crops – effects which fall most sharply on poor people.

Toxic water, floods and droughts also plague urban communities. Rivers loaded with garbage, chemicals and sewage poison drinking water and fish, and destroy opportunities for leisure and enjoyment Checking out the human uses of water for transportation, irrigation, industry, municipal and recreational uses led us to greater insights about how to think about cultural diversity, social justice, and water issues. We soon discovered that we had much more material than we could possibly use in a single issue. So we have tried to select stories and examples which convey something of the range and complexity of this subject. We realize that it is only a beginning.

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In This Issue:

1   The Color of California Water Politics
     by Henry Holmes

1   Metropolitan Joins Mothers of East LA in Water Conservation

3   Communities and the Clean Water Act
     by Richard Cohn-Lee & Dianne Cameron

6   The Environmental Legacy of US Bases in the Philippines
     by Jorge Emmanuel

7   Lament of History, Call of New Civilization
     by Haipei Xu

Water News

8 The Fight to Save the Nagara, It's in the Water, Going
on a Water Diet

9 Project YES, Birth Defects in Brownsville

10 Life on the Mississippi

     by Jonathan Kozol

11 The Politics of Water: An Interview with Anthony Willoughby

13 Wetlands and Housing: A Search for Unity
     by Bruce Livingston

Water Marketing

14 Grassroots Activists Take on Water Barons
     by Thomas Nelson

15 A Modest Proposal
     by Ralph Santiago Abascal

16 St. Regis Mohawks Blast GM, EPA Cleanup Plans

16 Local Action: The Minority Environmental Association

17 California Water Policy: The Need for New Voices.
     by Karen Garrison

18 Toxic Fish Consumption by People of Color

19 EPA Touts its Environmental Equity Water Projects

20 Trouble in Paradise: An Interview with Steven Okazaki
     by Mike Lee

23 Reportbacks